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Sotheby's to Offer Most Important Work by Titian to Appear at Auction in Nearly Twenty Years
Tiziano Vecellio, called Titian, A Sacra Conversazione: The Madonna and Child with Saints Luke and Catherine of Alexandria, Circa 1560, 50¼ by 66¾ in (127.8 by 169.7 cm). Photo: Sotheby's.
NEW YORK, NY.- A monumental work by the Renaissance master Titian will be offered early next year in Sotheby’s sale of Important Old Master Paintings in New York on 27 January 2011. A Sacra Conversazione: The Madonna and Child with Saints Luke and Catherine of Alexandria is one of only a handful of multi-figured compositions by the 16th century artist remaining in private hands and the most important to appear at auction since 1991. It will be shown the public for the first time in more than 30 years beginning 29 October in New York. Later this autumn, it will also be exhibited in Sotheby’s Paris, Amsterdam and London galleries. Demonstrating many of the hallmarks of Titian’s later works, the painting is estimated to sell for $15/20 million.*

A Sacra Conversazione: The Madonna and Child with Saints Luke and Catherine of Alexandria, painted circa 1560, is a mature work executed when Titian was at the height of his powers. He had established his reputation as the leading artist of his time and was courted by monarchs and emperors over the course of his long career. His profound use of color and innovation of both technique and subject matter have made him one of the most influential figures in the history of Western art. Titian is credited with being a profound influence for other artists, from Renaissance painters such as Rembrandt, Van Dyck and El Greco to colorists of the 19th and 20th centuries including Manet.

While historically referred to as ‘The Mystic Marriage of Saint Catherine’, the present canvas’s subject lies within the more traditional representation of a ‘sacra conversazione’; literally, a ‘holy conversation’ between the Madonna and Child and saints. The main focus of the composition is the tender representation of the Madonna and Child as they engage Saint Catherine, and in particular the gesture between the female saint and the Christ Child. Christ is depicted as a playful baby, slightly off-balance as He tips forward with arms outstretched towards Catherine, who in turn leans gently towards Him. This motif of Christ shown as a lively infant was one that Titian returned to on a number of occasions throughout his career. The scene is captured with the wonderful, loose brushwork characteristic of Titian in this later period. His genius is particularly evident in the Madonna’s purple coat and the veil that envelopes her, as well as in the atmospheric sky and landscape that the artist has defined with a few vigorous brushstrokes across the surface of the canvas. The interaction between the three central figures in the present work caught the eye of Sir Anthony van Dyck, who saw the painting during his travels through Italy in the 1620s and made a sketch of it in his ‘Italian Sketchbook,’ formerly at Chatsworth and today in the British Museum, London.

The painting has a remarkable provenance: during the almost half millennium since it was painted it has only changed hands five times, moving from one illustrious private European collection to another and rarely appearing in public at exhibition or at auction. Traditionally said to have been painted for the artist’s friend, the Chevalier Orologi of Padua, the painting was acquired by the late husband of the present owner in 1956. Extensively published, the painting has not been seen in public since the late 1970s.

Significant, multi-figured compositions by Titian are very rare on the market. One has not appeared at auction since 1991 when Venus and Adonis was acquired by the J. Paul Getty Museum.

Exhibition Schedule

New York 29 October – 3 November
Paris 15 November – 18 November
Amsterdam 26 November – 30 November
London 4 December – 8 December


*Estimates do not include buyer’s premium

Sotheby's | Important Old Master Paintings | New York | Rembrandt | Van Dyck | El Greco |


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